SteamWorld Dig Explains Digging Mechanism In-Depth

By   /   Sep 10, 2014

Developer Olle Hakansson from Image & Form took to Gamasutra to break down the main mechanism from their game, SteamWorld Dig, in a new series that the publication has started. Their long talk is all about how digging works in the game and what methods they thought of during their work.

In SteamWorld Dig, the main character descends further down a 2D plain with a tool that supports digging in the four prime directions. Terrain is divided in square tiles.

These tiles were kept roughly the same size as the character, because smaller dimensions could cause characters to stumble on poorly visible blocks, such as is Terraria for example. A larger cube would make the game look bulkier, so the programmer chose the middle ground.

Additionally, SteamWorld Dig is specific about its movement that allows the protagonist, a robot named Rusty, to jump up two tiles. Additionally, digging isn’t possible in mid-air, which causes players to be careful about their descent.

This design was crafted this way, because the developers wanted to create a sort of meta-puzzle inside the world of SteamWorld Dig. In the blog, however, Hakansson states that this didn’t really gel with their testers.

In its most rigid form, players kept getting stuck, because they didn’t want to pay attention to their trajectory. Being able to come back up to sell goods is an integral part of the game.

Allowing players to dig mid-air also posed a double-sided problem. For one, puzzles would become too easy, since it’d always be possible to climb back, but more than just that, the team would’ve also had to make a bunch of new animations.

Instead of doing all that work, the team admits to some laziness by instead opting for a wall jump ability. This could still leave an element of danger, if players fell into caves that funneled their walls.

It’s quite impressive to see how one simple thing in games can actually require as much planning. Don’t forget: SteamWorld Dig is also a part of the latest Humble Indie Bundle.